Everyone wants to be the Batman. Whether you’ve come into contact with the stories from the cartoon, the films or even the comic books, there’s always been something special about The Dark Knight. The Rocksteady Batman titles – Arkham Asylum and Arkham City – were outstanding examples of games based on a licensed property done right. When it was announced that Warner Bros. Montreal would be taking over development duties of the next instalment, Batman: Arkham Origins, people were understandably apprehensive, even more so when we learned the the writer of the previous games, along with a lot of the voice artists, wouldn’t be returning either.
With the game now released, were all those worries unfounded? Did we end up with a Batman game worthy of the “Arkham” suffix?
If you’ve seen any of the trailers for Batman: Arkham Origins, then you’ll already have a pretty solid idea of what the game is about. It’s Christmas Eve, and Black Mask has decided that the only thing he really wants for Christmas this year is Batman’s head. In order to get this present under his tree, he’s decided to hire five of the best assassins in the world, and pay whoever kills The Dark Knight $50,000,000. As you’d expect, this gets people well in the mood to commit some murder, and with only two years on the job, Batman is in way over his head trying to contend with all of them – unless he can split them up and deal with them all one at a time.
Batman: Arkham Origins’ story is arguably the best in the series. Where the first two games seemed to find any excuse to throw more and more enemies at you, Origins has genuine reasons – the enemies want the cash, and will do anything to get it. On top of that, it has the best ending of any of the games in the series, too. A bit abrupt perhaps, but still the best.
The visuals haven’t really moved on since the last game. In fact, the open-world sections use an almost identical map to Arkham City, so there’s nothing much to write home about in regards to the graphics in general. However, if you’re lucky enough to be playing the game on Windows PC, and you have a top-of-the-line gaming rig, then you’ll be happy to learn that Warner Bros. Montreal have worked very closely with nVidia to give PC gamers a significant amount of customisable options when it comes to how the game looks.
Arkham Origins fully supports both 3D gaming and 4K resolutions (although I’ve yet to meet someone with a 4K monitor). On top of that there are DirectX 11 enhanced textures and shadows, as well as some of the more modern graphics technologies such as tessellation and more. Other downfalls aside, Warner Bros. Montreal should be commended for their commitment to PC gamers with Arkham Origins. It’s clear that they worked hard to make sure the game can look its absolute best – although perhaps that’s because there’s no next-gen console version to tout.
The sound design of the Arkham games has always been good, and Warner Bros. Montreal were smart enough to not change most of what we’ve become accustomed to. The Batarang still sounds the same, as does almost everything in Batman’s arsenal. The one thing that has changed though, are the voice actors for both the Joker and Batman. Joker is now voiced by Troy Baker (Joel in The Last of Us) instead of the previous fan favourite, Mark Hamill, and Batman is now voiced by Roger Craig Smith (Ezio Auditore da Firenze in Assassin’s Creed II, Brotherhood and Revelations) instead of – arguably – the voice of Batman, Kevin Conroy.
These decisions can’t have come lightly. Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy are both fan favourites and some people will have made their decision on whether or not to pre-order the game based purely on the fact that these two actors weren’t reprising their roles; however, for the most part, the change isn’t noticeable. Troy Baker does an amazing job at impersonating Mark Hamill’s Joker and you’ll only notice that Kevin Conroy isn’t voicing the Bat when he’s talking calmly; which, as you’d expect, isn’t too often when he’s got a gang of world-class assassins vying for his head.
In a similar vein to Arkham City, the gameplay in Origins allows you to navigate Gotham City however you see fit. If you want to concentrate on doing the main story missions, progressing through the game and getting to the end as quickly as possible, you can do that. If you want to spend hours collecting Riddlers’ Extortion Packages and doing nothing else, then you can do that too. The freedom of choice is yours.
There’s a vast amount of side-missions on offer too, the most interesting of which make up the “Most Wanted” list. Lady Shiva, Deadshot, the Penguin and a few others offer up their own story lines by just following their markers on the map. Again, however, you can choose to do these whenever you want. You could leave all of them – as I did – until you’ve completed the main story, or just do them as soon as they pop up. It doesn’t matter at all.
One of the most interesting additions to Origins’ gameplay mechanics comes in the form of case files. These are similar to some of the cases that Batman had to solve in Arkham City, but with an extra layer of involvement in that Batman can use the Batcomputer to reconstruct the scene and replay through different parts of it, viewing it from different angles, in real time. These sections aren’t particularly difficult – Batman himself will walk you through what he wants you to look for next – but they’re a nice change of pace from the main game and can be a breath of fresh air when you’ve been exploring Gotham for a few hours. They don’t call him the “World’s Greatest Detective” for nothing.
As well as the single player elements, Batman: Arkham Origins also includes an online component. This section of the game takes the stealth Predator Takedown mechanic and translates it into an online arena. One team plays as the Joker’s thugs, the other are Bane’s while a third team makes up the dynamic duo of Batman and Robin. It’s the thugs’ jobs to take down members of the opposing team, as well as Batman and Robin, while it’s the heroes’ job to take down as many thugs as possible; no matter who they’re working for. It’s an interesting online mode and can get quite addictive. The controls feels a little off at the moment – running, for example, feels particularly bad – but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed in a future update.
With its levelling system, which allows players to earn upgrades for their weapons, new customisation options for all of their gear as well as new skins for Batman and Robin, I can see a lot of people putting a great deal of time into the online component of Batman: Arkham Origins – something I wouldn’t have believed possible only six months ago.
As with all of the Arkham games, there’s plenty to do outside of the main story missions. Upon completing the central sequence of events, according to my save file, I had only completed about 25% of the total content on offer. That’s good for completionists who like to get their money out of a game before moving on, but people who just like to complete the story and then move on to something new might feel cheated to learn that they’ve only experienced a quarter of what’s on offer.
Everything is as you’d expect, although some things have been changed to fit in with the “Origin” story. The Riddler trophies are now Extortion Packages, the Riddler logos are now Anarchy logos and so on. It’s all still there, it just might have a new name.
VERDICT: There’s still a very good Batman game here, but the fact that the new developers took game mechanics that were tried and tested – and superior to most other games of the time – and made them worse, won’t go down well with a lot of the fans. The fact that a surprisingly high percentage of the action is taken out of the player’s hands and shown in cut-scenes will probably seem a little bit like false advertising to a lot of people too – and that’s before we get to the fact a lot of the important stuff happens in side-missions that are easy to miss.
Batman: Arkham Origins feels very much like a rushed job; the map you’re using is almost exactly the same as Arkham City, a lot of the same characters are used, and we’re not even getting the “true” Batman and Joker voice actors (although, admittedly, Troy Baker and Roger Craig Smith do a great job). The story is the best in the series but, when it comes to gameplay, Warner Bros. Montreal seem to have taken the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra and done the exact opposite.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.